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Three Alumni Return to Help Students
Make Most of Mercer Experience


West Windsor, N.J. - For some Mercer graduates, their associate degree is just the start of a long-term relationship with the college. That's the case for three Mercer alumni who work in the Student Activities Office: Danielle Garruba, Tina Young, and Tatiana Dodge. Not surprisingly, all three were active as Mercer students and are now intent on giving new groups of students the social support, growth and leadership skills that they developed as part of their college experience.

The Student Activities Office plans and implements programs of social, cultural, recreational, and educational interest for students -with the input and buy-in of students themselves. The office hosts fall and spring orientation sessions, leadership seminars, social events, and community service projects. In recent years, students have organized fundraisers for many charities.
Social activities are also on the calendar. Events have included a Fall Festival, Winter Ball, nutrition workshops, fitness classes, a video game tournament, and trips to see Broadway shows.

Danielle Garruba '97 (A.A., Humanities and Social Science) is the office's director, a post she has held for over a decade. A graduate of McCorristin High School (now Trenton Catholic Academy), Garruba decided to attend Mercer because of her positive experience when she visited the campus as a high school senior.

"Everyone was very friendly. I liked the feeling of being known by name around campus," she said. "Mercer is a great school for students who want to feel part of a community."

Garruba immersed herself in college life, serving on the Student Activities Board from 1994-97. After graduating with honors, she transferred to Rider University, where she earned her bachelor's degree in psychology in 1999 and her master's degree in counseling in 2002.

The Student Activities staff, clockwise from top left, Administrative Specialist Tatiana Dodge,Director Danielle Garruba and Events Coordinator Tina Young. All are MCCC alum.

Upon graduation from Rider, Garruba returned to Mercer as an intern in the Student Activities Office. A few months later, the director retired and Garruba applied for the job. "I love working with students and planning events," she said. "I feel like it's my niche and it fits my personality."

As an alumna, Garruba draws from her own experiences to help students discover the opportunities available at the college. "With seven organizations and more than 50 clubs, Mercer has a lot to offer. Students don't realize everything they can become involved in here. It's a great college experience at less than half the cost of many schools in New Jersey."

For Tina (Lestician) Young '04 (A.S., Communications), Mercer started out as her back-up plan. A graduate of Hamilton High School West, she was accepted to four colleges, but found that MCCC's reasonable tuition just couldn't be matched. Young embraced Mercer academically and socially, serving as the president of the Student Activities Board and becoming well acquainted with Garruba and all that the Student Activities Office had to offer.

After graduating from Mercer, Young went on to receive her bachelor's degree in Education and Psychology from Rider University. She then began work as a pre-school teacher at the Catholic Youth Organization (CYO) of Mercer County. She never lost touch with Garruba, though, and volunteered as a facilitator at Mercer's leadership conferences for three years. In 2011, when the events coordinator position opened up, Young jumped at the chance to return to her alma mater.

Young runs the Leadership, Education and Development (L.E.A.D) program at Mercer, a new initiative that started in fall 2011. L.E.A.D. offers MCCC students who participate in the college's organizations and clubs an opportunity for personal growth by fostering leadership, teamwork and community development.

According to Young, L.E.A.D. students get together three times each month, twice to meet with a leadership coach who discusses topics including personal growth, goal setting and being a role model. Students also plan community service projects. In March, they are celebrating Dr. Seuss' birthday with a visit to CYO, the pre-school where Young worked. They will read and interact with the children. Other spring projects include a Penny War in April and a Walk-A-Thon in May to raise funds for Alex's Lemonade Stand Foundation.

L.E.A.D. students are also invited to participate in fall and spring leadership conferences, as well as attend two seminars per semester. At the end of the year students who have met the L.E.A.D. requirements will be recognized with a certificate and pin at an awards luncheon.

Young notes that the most important lesson she learned as a Mercer student is that participation in activities can go a long way towards success. "Statistically students do better when they're involved, make friends, and have people they can rely on to help them succeed," she observes. She encourages students to stop by the office any time to explore the possibilities.

Tatiana (Tarrasov) Dodge '10 (A.S., Elementary Education) is the office's part-time administrative specialist. She also attends Rider University on a full scholarship, pursuing a double major in Elementary Education and English.
"Every day in the office is different. I feel like I have the opportunity to be really creative here," Dodge says, pointing to the floral arrangements she created for the students' Valentine's Day celebration as just one example.

A 2005 graduate of Princeton High School, Dodge's decision to come to Mercer was "a complete change of plans." Originally set on attending art school, her priorities changed when she started a family. Currently the mother of children ages three, five and seven, she notes that Mercer's flexible scheduling allowed her to work and attend classes at the same time. "Mercer was just the right choice for me."

She even found time to be active on campus, serving as the president of Kappa Delta Pi, the International Honor Society in Education, and attending Student Government meetings. She first became acquainted with the Student Activities Office when she volunteered to help with graduation. When she saw a position opening in the office, she immediately applied. "I just felt at home in this office," she said. "A big chunk of my heart was at Mercer, and I wasn't ready to leave."

Dodge explains that MCCC has been part of her life since she was a young child. She was often on campus as her mother pursued three associate degrees from Mercer. She also recalls her mother reading to her from her textbooks at bedtime.

Dodge is a huge advocate of starting college at Mercer. "A lot of professors here are so enthusiastic about their area of expertise. They teach here because they love their subject matter." She says that Mercer ended up being "a great place to find myself. I'm glad my plans changed because I have had so many wonderful experiences here."

While Dodge's original goal was to teach elementary school, she has fallen in love with the college environment and now plans to earn her master's degree in English so she can teach at the college level. "I definitely love working with students and helping them find their path," she said.

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